Over the past decade, the rate of divorce among middle-aged people has increased dramatically. What has become known as ‘gray divorce’ has more than doubled over the last three decades. Gray divorce describes a divorcing couple, with spouses aged 50 and older, who divorce after a long-term marriage.
“Remaining true to yourself is a core human value at any age or stage of life,” according to Karen Aurit, Co-Founder and Director of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. “You can find the courage to make choices that show respect for yourself. In the end, this is most respectful to your family.”
Michael Aurit, a Professional Family Mediator and Co-Founder and Director of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, has helped hundreds of couples going through a ‘gray divorce.’ “We help older couples divorce with dignity and respect for their circumstances in cases of a long-term marriage,” says Aurit. “Conflict may exist, and there are challenges to overcome, but these couples have a sense of relief when they understand that in mediation, the goal is not to hurt one another and that their divorce will be on their own terms.”
The recent news of Bill and Melinda Gates’ decision to divorce after 27 years of marriage has brought gray divorce into the spotlight. We are all left wondering why there has been such an increase in these divorces and why more spouses want to end their long-term marriages. Let’s take a closer look at some of the possible reasons.
Gray Divorce on the Rise
People are living longer, and consequently, marriages are lasting longer than ever before. Spouses are facing new challenges for which there is no precedent. Higher life expectancies combined with irreconcilable differences cause many couples waiting to retire or become empty nesters to take the initiative to end their marriage.
Bill and Melinda Gates may have said it best in their joint social media statement, “[w]e no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.” Increased longevity means people in their 50s or 60s are looking forward to the next few decades, and are discovering that their longtime partner is no longer part of the future they envision.
Statistics show, the more marriages a person experiences, the less likely each subsequent marriage will last. Spouses may be more comfortable going through the process again after having experience with the divorce process. As divorce and remarriage have become socially acceptable, more people marry multiple times. As subsequent marriages have increased, so have gray divorces.
Times have changed a great deal for baby-boomers who were married in the 1960s and 70s, when women had significantly less earning potential than they do today and commonly stayed home to raise a family. Women have become more financially independent, placing them in a stronger position to seek a divorce.
Research shows, women continue to carry more of the workload involved in maintaining a household and caring for children, even when they work full-time. These women, in particular, are more likely to feel as though their marriage is no longer a benefit to them, and that they prefer independence—maybe for the first time in their lives.
Adult Children are Still Affected
As divorce changes family dynamics, children of all ages are substantially affected. Adult children can still experience feelings of being torn between their parents and feeling they should pledge loyalty to one parent or the other. After so many years of viewing their parents as a team, adult children may feel confused about their parents’ decision to divorce—especially if they didn’t experience high levels of conflict between their parents as they were growing up. They may contemplate whether their parents’ marriage was genuine and question whether they missed signs of an unhappy marriage.
Adult children may also experience a financial impact if their parents’ divorce means that they will no longer have the means to keep financial commitments, such as paying for college tuition, down payments on houses, weddings, etc. Feelings of uncertainty are difficult for children whose parents divorce, no matter the children’s age.
Parents can collaboratively determine what information they will share with their children. It is important to keep private, painful details out of the conversation as sharing resentments only makes the process more difficult for the children. Talking with their children at the same time and giving the same information can go a long way toward the children’s continued sense of stability. Additionally, parents can prepare themselves for a barrage of questions and formulate simple responses.
As the family faces this challenge, they will also experience new opportunities. Adult children can now view each of their parents in a new, more authentic light. They also have the opportunity to convey their love to each of their parents by offering their caring support.
Parents can model healthy adjustment and adaptation following change. This change is an opportunity to review wonderful memories and convey that both parents look to the future with hope. Ultimately, this family has the opportunity to strengthen itself to best support each and every member through whatever challenges life may present.
COVID and Gray Divorce
For spouses in an age range more susceptible to COVID-19, quarantine led to them experiencing their partners in a new light. Many are now ready for change, and thus, it is not altogether surprising that gray divorce is on the rise.
Pandemic-related financial hurdles and unexpectancies, like early retirement, have impacted how people view their spouses and their marriages. Divorcing during a pandemic adds an entirely new level of difficulty and emotional challenge. At the Aurit Center, we help these spouses in a way that honors their history. Divorce mediation allows them to move forward at their own speed and guides them through a respectful and personalized process.
For Those Experiencing a Gray Divorce
Allowing Yourself to Feel
After a long-term marriage, the thought of divorce can be especially daunting. Adjustment to single life may take weeks or months—and that’s okay. There is no timeline for adapting to a new life. It can be helpful to remember that divorce does not minimize how special your marriage was at one time.
Allow yourself to grieve the ending of your marriage and the future you once envisioned. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself the time and space you need. You can focus on the good memories, and the years you spent together as a family. As you begin to heal, you will be able to move your focus toward the next chapter of your life and all of the wonderful new adventures and opportunities ahead.
Reaching Out for Support
After divorce, you may feel uncertain about how to start your new life. In times of need, don’t hesitate to reach out to those closest to you for support. Help them understand that even though you may have wanted the divorce, it is still challenging. Now is the time to reach out to those who provide you with the best support and who help you find the joy and humor in each day.
There are professional divorce coaches in Arizona, like Andrea Hipps, author of “The Best Worst Time of Your Life,” who can help you move forward. The Aurit Center maintains a List of Preferred Therapists and Counselors who specialize in helping people through difficult transitions. The caring therapists at Therapy with Heart have helped many of our clients successfully navigate life during and after divorce.
Taking Care of Yourself
Before, during, and after your gray divorce, it is essential to take good care of yourself. It is normal to experience discomfort and pain, and life may feel out of balance. Without proper self-care, this can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It can help to focus on healing and moving toward a new beautiful, and meaningful life.
Create small moments of relaxation, and allow yourself to take a break from the questions circling through your mind. Small moments might include: listening to your favorite music, reading, meditating, or giving yoga a try. If you are struggling to find a way forward, seek professional help. You do not have to do this alone. To lessen the strain of adjustment, prioritize your wellness and recognize when you need extra TLC.
Like all divorce, gray divorce is difficult. There are unique challenges when spouses have been together for many years. Mediation is the opportunity to divorce in the most amicable way possible, protect children—even adult children—and help them cope throughout the divorce process.
Divorce does not mean failure. Divorce is not simply black or white, and it is more frequently gray. The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation can help ensure a healthy process and to establish a secure foundation for the next phase of life. No matter how many years you were married or what brought you to the decision to divorce, we are here to light your path forward to a bright future.